INSIDE A24’S LONG PLAY TO MAKE AN ARTHOUSE HORROR FILM THE BUZZIEST ENTRY IN A SUMMER OF SUPERHEROES
It’s January 24, 2018 and I’m in a queue in the Press & Industry tent at Sundance. I’ve been in town less than an hour and after grabbing my badge, I headed straight here. This is the place where I’ll spend huge swaths of the coming days, writing in line between bolting down food from the grocery store in the parking lot and occasionally listening to the buzz of the crowd passing the time by comparing notes. I haven’t been in the tent a full 15 minutes when a volunteer rushes in and tells the first person that will listen “I’m shook AF.” He goes on to explain that he’s just come from a screening of Hereditary.
And suddenly it’s the thing I hear about more than anything else at a festival full of catnip for film snobs. The reactions are off-the-charts tantalizing:
“Toni Collette does at least three things in Hereditary that will fuck you up for life.”
I was hooked.
And that buzz was no mistake. In years past, A24 came to Sundance to shop. They bought wacky little entries like Swiss Army Man and A Ghost Story. This year, A24 came to Park City to show off. In particular, they wanted festival goers to see the pictures on their slate from two first-time feature directors Bo Burnham — whose Eighth Grade will break your heart and put it back together again — and Ari Astor, the mind behind Hereditary.
In the months after Sundance, A24’s agenda and aspirations for Hereditary became more evident. They let the buzz build at Sundance and other festivals. They released a series of curated GIFs to whet the appetites of their rabid followers before dropping a series of increasingly pulse-pounding trailers. They built an Etsy shop featuring handmade crafts from Charlie, the young girl caught up in the ominous narrative. They shipped creepy creations to influencers and their own high profile collaborators. Then they went to work.
The world knew Hereditary was a twisted vision. Already, there was a sense of “Are you brave enough to watch it?” hanging about the picture. It was time to build the narrative that would reach beyond A24 devotees and genre enthusiasts: Toni Collette’s performance.
New cuts of trailers featured blurb after blurb about her astonishing turn. She started making the press circuit to talk about how punishing and exhilarating the role was. Promotional images and clips turned to focus on Toni’s character as the matriarch of this embattled family. The studio recruited comedian and long-time Toni Collette stan, John Early, to interview her on their conversational branded podcast. They extended the bit with an issue of their zine guest edited by Early and designed to recreate the hero worship of Collette that populated his GeoCities fansite back in the early aughts.
Why the emphasis on Toni Collette? Apart from the fact that she’s brilliant AF, this little studio that could has known one thing all along: Whatever else becomes of Hereditary, they want Toni Collette in the Best Actress conversation. Because how audacious would it be to land a (deserved) nod for an unabashedly bonkers genre film? Pretty audacious. Not unlike the triumph that was turning a $3 million dollar film like Moonlight into a Best Picture winner.
And now that Toni is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and the world’s about to get a taste of what Hereditary can do, A24 is out to prove the talk is more than just talk. At advance screenings around the country, A24 is asking viewers with an Apple Watch to monitor their heart rates and share the data — so you can bet we’re due to start seeing some data-driven marketing.
Oh, and just for good measure, they’ve launched a 2019 wall calendar starring Evil Grandmas. Because why the hell not?
Horror may not be your cup of tea, but true multi-channel integrated marketing should be. And as good as they are at making movies, A24 might be even better at marketing.
I should know. I spent $75 dollars on a plain black sweatshirt that says “A TWENTY-FOUR” and I’d do it again, because they have me, unequivocally. If they make it, I see it. If they market it, I talk about it.
The only question now is, how do we emulate it?